On April Fools’ Day 2009, it was not a joke — fortunately just a scare — when Tony Nguyen felt as though he was suffering a heart attack.
The following day, the 5-foot-5, 223-pound Type 2 diabetic and his chiweenie (Chihuahua-dachshund mix) sidekick, Chewbacca, got off the couch for a walk around the block of Nguyen’s home in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond district.
The wheels, Nguyen’s legs, were set in motion. His “trash TV,” junk food and daily six-pack of soda habits were replaced by journeys on foot across The City with Chewbacca.
After spending two hours at the finish line of the 2009 San Francisco Marathon, the kid from Foster City who was always picked last in gym class was captivated by the euphoria of the athletes completing the 26.2-mile race. Thus, Endorphin Dude was born.
Nguyen wished to experience the runner’s high for himself. He decided to embark on a training plan to run in the 2010 San Francisco Marathon. His walking turned to running.
With his old UC Davis roommate Charles Wickersham as coach and his new friends at the Dolphin South End Running Club providing support, the 1990 graduate of San Mateo’s Aragon High School ran his first race, a 5-kilometer in Modesto in September 2009.
The following month, he completed his first half-marathon, the San Jose Rock & Roll.
“I was very nervous. It was the biggest thing in my life to that time,” Nguyen said. “I never thought that a fat kid could do that. I did so much better than I possibly imagined, 2 hours, 15 minutes.”
His belt size decreased from 42 to 33 inches as Nguyen dropped nearly 50 pounds. His blood panels came up clean, and he was taken off all medicines, including insulin for the diabetes.
“I kept signing up for more and more half-marathons,” Nguyen said, using the halfs as preparation for the full marathons. “Runner’s high is when I cross the finish line. Runner’s happiness is every other time in my life.”
Donning his cape, the 37-year-old mild-mannered man who works in sales operations for Dolby Labs by day transforms into Endorphin Dude during the races.
Nguyen is on track to complete his goal of 52 marathons this year.
“When I look at the medals on the wall, it baffles my mind that I was able to change my life like this,” Nguyen said. “Those medals are constant reminders that I’m no longer that unhealthy person. I’m Endorphin Dude. I’m a superhero.”
MARATHON MANIAC: Plans to run 52 marathons this year
SUPERPOWER: Casts out his own endorphins to energize and entertain fellow runners in the back of the pack
CHARITY: Peninsula Humane Society, where he adopted his dog Chewbacca
BLOG: www.endorphindude.com, which has surpassed the 10,000-hit mark
2011 S.F. MARATHON: The July race will mark the anniversary of Nguyen’s foray into 26.2-milers